Bulgaria: Wheat Harvest Sets Record; Drought Reduces Yield Prospects for Corn
2016/17 Winter Crop Conditions: Record Wheat and Rapeseed
Bulgaria’s main winter crops, wheat and rapeseed, benefited from plentiful spring rainfall and mild temperatures, and farmers reported high yields for both crops. Quality was also reported to be high. Dryness during the mid-summer enabled the harvest to progress rapidly. Wheat production is estimated by USDA at 5.7 million metric tons (mmt), 19 percent or 0.9 mmt higher than last year’s crop and 15 percent higher than the 5-year average. Yield is estimated at 5.00 tons per hectare (t/ha), 12 percent above last year and 22 percent above the 5-year average. Rapeseed production is estimated at 0.5 mmt, up 0.1 mmt from last year, with estimated yield up 19 percent to 2.94 t/ha.
2016/17 Summer Crop Conditions
Soil moisture levels in Bulgaria increased during the winter and spring, which benefited early development of corn and sunflowers, the country’s major summer crops. (View regional precipitation graphs for Bulgaria.) Yield prospects were favorable until dryness began in June, reducing surface soil moisture and stressing spring-planted crops, but high sub-surface moisture reserves mitigated the impacts of low summer rainfall. Moderate relief arrived in early August when brief rainfall interrupted the drought, but the dryness resumed in September.
Corn: Drought Reduces Estimated Yield
Although FAS specialists observed some corn fields to be in excellent condition, in general corn was more adversely affected by the lack of moisture than were sunflowers. Early-season soil moisture helped the corn establish deep roots, but conditions deteriorated as heat and dryness continued into late August and September. USDA estimates Bulgaria corn production for 2016/17 at 2.4 mmt, down from last year’s crop of 2.7 mmt and below the 2014/15 record of 3.1 mmt. Yield is estimated at 5.28 t/ha, down 2 percent from last year and 31 percent below the 2014/15 record of 7.69 t/ha.
Sunflowers: Average Yields
Sunflowers tend to have a relatively high tolerance for dryness due to the plant’s deep rooting system, so the Bulgarian sunflower crop was able to escape significant drought-related stress.. During August crop-assessment travel, a team of analysts from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) observed sunflowers to be in good condition with average estimated yield. Sunflower heads were fully pollinated. Due to extended dryness and heat, crop development was accelerated, and by the middle of August Bulgarian farmers had already begun the sunflower harvest. Several farmers had mentioned that this was their earliest harvest ever. USDA estimates sunflower production at 1.8 mmt, up 6 percent from last year, with a 1 percent increase in area to 0.8 million hectares (mha). Yield is estimated at 2.20 t/ha, 5 percent above last year and 4 percent above the 5-year average.
Agricultural practices in Bulgaria, one of the EU’s least affluent members, have shown significant recent advances. Like most countries in the EU, Bulgaria does not plant genetically-modified crops, but Bulgarian agriculture has seen a widespread increase in the use of foreign genetics – particularly French, German and Austrian wheat varieties. This has helped Bulgarian wheat yields reach records levels for 2016/17. According to farmers, crop-production costs have soared 300 percent in the last ten years, forcing them to adopt thehigher-yielding varieties.
Some of the largest farms are using precision agriculture for variable-rate applications of inputs such as fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides. Other observed technologies included minimal-till, no-till, and strip-till methods to conserve moisture and reduce production costs. Clearfield technology is frequently used by farmers to control weeds. This method involves the use of a specific herbicide in combination with non-genetically modified seeds resistant to the herbicide. In addition, one farmer interviewed by the FAS team was adamant about the use of microbacterial fertilizer to provide higher, more nutrient-rich soil.
Farmers are also growing grain corn for the production of biogas, a relatively new but likely growing market. Even when yield was exceptional for corn (around 10 t/ha), some farmers choose not to sell it as grain corn, but rather as green mass to biogas producers. The farmers stated that there wasn’t a difference in growing corn for biogas or grain, so they could follow the market and switch its end use long after planting. One disadvantage of grain corn is that when the crop is harvested wet, artificial drying adds significantly to the cost of production.
Farms in Bulgaria tend to be much larger than in many other countries in Europe, although one large farm may actually be comprised of a collection of individually owned plots which typically range in size from one-half to three hectares. A farm of 120 hectares can easily consist of over 50 individual plots, and the farmer must pay rent to each plot owner. It is very difficult to entice owners to sell land because of the guaranteed income (considered a pension of sorts) that the plot owner collects from EU subsidies. This has continued to drive up land prices and rent values, making this the biggest expense for farmers.
Yields were high this year for Bulgaria’s winter crops, wheat and rapeseed. However, farmers were disappointed with the summer’s below-average corn yields after dryness erased the favorable start to the growing season. Sunflowers, in contrast, were better able to withstand the dryness, and yield surpassed last year’s level by 5 percent.
The valuable contribution of the staff of the USDA Office of Agricultural Affairs in Sofia is gratefully acknowledged. Please see FAS/Sofia GAIN report BU1639, November 14, 2016 for more information.
Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on IPAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.
Visit Crop Explorer http://www.pecad.fas.usda.gov/cropexplorer/